Welcome to Media Criticism, Unplugged. To conserve energy, I am not tuning in, turning on and, except to file this, logging on.
It occurs to me that one of the biggest, if not THE biggest, energy pigs in this century is our appetite for media.
You young 'uns will find this hard to believe but, not so long ago, there were no VCRs, DVDs, PCs, video games, digital boxes, answering machines, cordless anything, cellphones and other communication devices that needed recharging.
I was reminded of that last Thursday when I dug out my Westclox transistor alarm clock-radio, in its "genuine cowhide" case, AM only, which used to give me the latest Beatles and Stones tunes when I was a mere ... well, I ain't about to tell you that.
After listening to CFRB's fine news coverage, and reassuring myself that terrorists and/or aliens weren't short-circuiting the world as we know it, I turned it off.
Total radio silence.
And so I was free, free at last. Free of George W. Bush's smirk, Kobe Bryant and Scott Peterson, Paul Martin, the gay marriage debate, Ah-nuld, those tragic forest fires out West, Air Canada woes, Ben and Jen ...
True, I was on holiday, and entitled to bury my head in the sand.
But what's a vacation today when you have voice mail, call forwarding, instant messaging, text display, wireless Internet and 86 other ways to stay in touch?
Talk about TMI. Too much information. We are tethered, via an electronic leash, to a 24/7 news and information cycle that bombards us with stress-making stuff and nonsense.
And I am not the only one who is opting out. Ten days ago, The New York Times published a lengthy piece headlined "Suffering news burnout? Rest of America is, too."
It reported that ratings for TV news have plummeted.
Even while American troops are being killed in Iraq and the aforementioned Ah-nuld is pumping up California politics, "Television news viewers are tuning out."
Maybe, since the story was published, there's been an upward blip, no thanks to the blackout (which ironically disempowered TV) and the horrific bombings in Israel and Iraq. But the downward trend is unmistakable.
Says The Times: "The total evening news audience on the broadcast networks has been lower this summer than it was during the summer of 2001, when the pressing stories of the day were shark attacks and Chandra A. Levy."
While similar statistics are not yet available for Canadian TV, it's likely the same story here as well.
There seems to be some sort of TMI trope worming its way through the culture since, just as I was reflecting on news burnout, the alternative weekly Now came out with advice to the media-glutted. Talk back to the TV. Don't just lie there. Get off the sofa and do something about the world around you.
Emphasizing that TV audience analysis is "an inexact science,'' The Times offers little more than some news executives' speculations for what is going on.
Iraq fatigue, coupled with the lack of "compelling" stories with "the broad appeal and emotional tug'' of a missing Elizabeth Smart, are keeping viewers away.
This strikes me as particularly alarming. The implication is that audiences have been dumbed down along with the news.
Or, as MSNBC's Keith Olbermann told the Washington Post last month, "The traditional hour of news that the networks have tried to do for 50 years just is not going to sell real well with an audience that's gradually had its attention span shrunk over the years.''
(We interrupt this column for an important announcement: It's 2:20 p.m. Wednesday and I just turned on CNN. There's a shark attack story on ... )
Perhaps the TV news guys are right. Maybe the collective viewer IQ is sinking. Maybe smart news consumers are going elsewhere for information. (God bless newspaper readers.)
Consider: Over the past 12 months I have eliminated all entertainment TV in my life.
No Bachelor, no Canadian Idol, no CSI. Not even the latest seasons of The Sopranos and Six Feet Under.
Why bother? Most news programming is entertainment enough, what with its theme music, graphics, scream fests, bombastic anchors, and junk stories. What was the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch but a made-for-TV movie without some has-been sitcom star in the lead?
So excuse me for a few days, please, while I slowly rewire my life — and my job.
Until then, I'm telling everybody that the grid ate my homework.